Throughout the course of this new series, I will be attempting to predict the 2022 Formula One driver grid as well as giving insights into what options the different teams have. To start with, let’s dive into the driver situation at our reigning champions, Mercedes.
Written by Danny Jones, Edited by Aiden Hover
Mercedes are in a unique situation where they have 3 drivers out of contract at the end of 2021. Being the dominant force in F1 since 2014, the seats at the main team are the 2 most coveted in the sport, with only 4 drivers having permanently filled those spaces since 2010. However, the increasing threat from Red Bull in 2021 could potentially play a significant factor in Mercedes’ driver choice and the wider driver market as a whole as well as the prospect of Lewis Hamilton achieving his 8th World Title leaving his F1 future in doubt.
Hamilton has made his interests in the fashion and music industries clear which will offer him a wide range of career options should he want to leave F1. However, Hamilton may want to finish the final chapter of his F1 story first. With an 8th title at stake in 2021, he will very likely want to ensure he beats Michael Schumacher’s record and further cement himself as the greatest of all time.
However, this may not come as easily as once planned. The growing threat of Red Bull and Max Verstappen has meant that an 8th title may not be as sure-fire as it had been for years before. So far in the 2021 season, Hamilton and Mercedes seem to have had a small upper edge on Verstappen and Red Bull, but crucial mistakes from driver and team have cost them points, which could be significant in the context of the season. This has ensured that Hamilton will need to stay as sharp as ever if he wants to fend off his younger Dutch rival.
Hamilton has also spoken about his interest in the 2022 regulations and his desire to race the new cars. Following a recent tyre test for Pirelli, he mentioned that he would want to get a contract sorted by the summer – further reinforcing his desire to remain in F1 past this year.
If it is that Hamilton does remain at the team, they have a difficult, but important decision to make. Mercedes have the option to sign either Valtteri Bottas and George Russell to partner him. Valtteri, having been at the team for multiple years, is a known quantity. Russell, having subbed for Hamilton in Sakhir last year, has proved his speed in a Mercedes.
2021 will be George Russell’s 3rd season with Williams, however, with the team not being able to provide him with a competitive car, Mercedes risk losing him. As we saw with Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wherlien, Mercedes have had a tendency in the past to leave their drivers in uncompetitive cars for extended amounts of time. This leaves them without the chances to prove themselves and they may begin to look elsewhere – just look at Ocon leaving the Mercedes family to join the French outfit of Renault (now Alpine) since 2020.
Bottas has always made clear his desire to win the World Championship and to beat Hamilton but has failed to do so in 4 attempts. Despite being in the strongest car, Bottas has only managed to win 9 races with Mercedes, compared to the 43 Hamilton has achieved in the same period. Bottas’ role has always been seen as a wingman, and support to Hamilton. Although these claims have died down since 2019, he has still struggled to beat Hamilton and is running out of time to win the World Championship. These performances caused many to suggest that Russell would be called up to Mercedes for 2021 until Bottas agreed to a 1-year extension. Even now, there have been suggestions of the young-brit being promoted mid-season.
Bottas and Russell’s fiery Imola crash proved that them being teammates would be near impossible, with both heavily blaming each other along with a healthy dose of insults. Russell also suggested that Bottas’s move was deliberate, and he ‘would not have done so to any other driver,’ referring to Russell’s chance at the Mercedes seat. This also sparked the debate of why Bottas was even in the position to be fighting a Williams? This showed his sub-par performances this season and – despite pole in Portugal – has been unable to match Verstappen and Hamilton.
Should only 1 of Mercedes’ candidates be able to take a seat next year, Mercedes would still have a plethora of options, most notably being the previously mentioned Esteban Ocon. The Frenchman has been impressive thus far in 2021 and has long-standing links with the Mercedes drivers academy with Toto Wolff openly admitting that he is in the running for the 2022 seat. Mercedes also have reserve drivers Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries should they need them, with both racing for the Mercedes team in Formula E. Mercedes also have F3 driver Fred Vesti on their books, but he would be an extreme longshot due not yet achieving a super license.
With all this being said, I feel as though Mercedes will promote Russell up to the main team to partner Lewis Hamilton. The new rivalry with Verstappen will surely have sparked a new fire within the 7-time-champion and will ignite a desire to compete for a small while to come. In all honesty, Valtteri Bottas has missed his chance to secure a championship with the German outfit and Mercedes has been put into a now or never situation with promoting George Russell.